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Bioinformatics, Computational Biology Program Receives $649,681 NSF Grant

Saint Louis University's bioinformatics and computational biology program has been awarded a $649,681 grant by the National Science Foundation for the Bioinformatics Training with Industry Support and Engagement (BITWISE) project.

Bioinformatics grant faculty and staff

Bioinformatics and computational biology faculty and students pose in front of Busch Student Center. Back row (left to right): Michael Goldwasser, Ph.D., Jack Kennell, Ph.D., Zhenguo Lin, Ph.D., David Letscher, Ph.D., Ted Ahn, Ph.D., Brian Downes, Ph.D. Front row (left to right): Erin Chambers, Ph.D., Maureen Donlin, Ph.D., Dylan Lawrence (first-year graduate student), Haijun Gong, Ph.D., James Gallien (first-year graduate student). 

The grant provides funding over five years, with more than $500,000 going directly to student scholarship and support of participants in SLU's Master of Science program in Bioinformatics and Computational Biology (BCB).

Beyond the scholarships, the grant will fund additional student support structures, such as supplemental instruction groups, a summer bridge program for incoming students, field trips to relevant industry sites and on-campus events with industry panels.

"The overarching theme of the grant is industry engagement and our unique position here in St. Louis to partner with a vibrant biotech industry," said Michael H. Goldwasser, Ph.D., a computer science professor who is spearheading the grant. "The program offers opportunities and defines SLU, the St. Louis region, our students and our faculty as cutting edge."

Under the provisions of the grant, scholarships will go to academically talented students with demonstrated financial need who qualify by NSF definition as U.S. citizens, permanent residents, nationals, or refugees. Students may receive support of up to $10,000 for each of two years of study in the program through one of two pathways:

"Given the current time frame, we will likely use this grant to recruit the first cohort of scholarship students for fall 2017," Goldwasser said. "Others will follow each year through 2020."

Goldwasser said he hopes that students and other members of the SLU community will visit an open house that the team is presenting from 5 to 7 p.m. today in Ritter Hall Lobby to share more information about the BCB master's program.

"We hope to interest current SLU undergraduates," Goldwasser said. "Because the BITWISE grant will continue for five years, the opportunity exists for many students to position themselves for the five year ABM program. Ideally, students in one of our undergraduate programs in biology, biochemistry, computer science or mathematics could be a good fit for this new program, but they'd want to start thinking about what classes to take to be ready for an interdisciplinary program."

Last fall, the University welcomed its first cohort of students enrolled in the master of science BCB program, as well as Ted Ahn, Ph.D., assistant professor in mathematics and computer science. Another faculty member will join the biology department in the fall and additional faculty for the program are slated to be hired in the coming years.

The program offers opportunities and defines SLU, the St. Louis region, our students and our faculty as cutting edge."

Michael H. Goldwasser, Ph.D.,

The program is housed within Arts and Sciences, and jointly supported by biology, chemistry, computer science and mathematics.

Maureen J. Donlin, Ph.D, associate research professor in biochemistry and molecular biology, recently was named director of the master's program in bioinformatics and computational biology.

Along with Donlin and Goldwasser, the other members of the faculty involved in the grant award are Gerardo R. Camillo, Ph.D., associate professor of biology; Jack Kennell, Ph.D., professor of biology; David M. Letscher, Ph.D., associate professor of computer science; Donna J.LaVoie, Ph.D., associate dean for the College of Arts and Sciences and Cari S. Wickliffe, assistant vice president of Student Financial Services.

In addition to the new master's program, bioinformatics course work has been expanded at the undergraduate level. In fact, a new course — Introduction to Computer Science: Bioinformatics (CSCI 1020) — was just introduced this spring as a freshman class. It will be offered again in the fall.

"I encourage students to consider taking the class," Goldwasser said. "It is a first step of exploration."